by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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Many “fancy” antique wooden canoes have beautiful up-swept sheer-lines at the ends. The curved end profile in many canoes built by canoe companies such as Old Town, Kennebec, Robertson, Monohon, Canadian, Lakefield and Peterborough elicit gasps of admiration from passersby and groans of despair from would-be canoe restorers.  Let’s look at the Model 44 all-wood cedar-strip canoe built by the Peterborough Canoe Company (1879-1961).

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When I started restoring this canoe, it looked fairly good considering that it was 87 years old. However, I had my doubts about the integrity of the decks and suspected to discover some issues there.

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Sure enough, the decks were full of rot and had to be replaced. Each deck was comprised of two pieces of butternut (white walnut).  They were braced together from below by two pieces of hardwood.  The joint between the deck pieces was covered by a cap of white oak and the end grain was covered by a white oak coaming.  When disassembling the deck system, make notes and diagrams of every component and screw.  Make sure you know exactly what every part is and where it fits in the system.  Many of the original screws are impossible to source now, so keep them, clean them and reuse them.

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The original butternut sections were bent to fit the up-turned profile of each end. Sourcing four-quarters (4/4) butternut in boards 8″ (20 cm) wide is a challenge. I was able to locate a supplier in Pennsylvania.  The inside edge of each half of the deck had an 8° angle to create a gentle arch to the entire deck.  The first step in the construction was to cut that angle into the new butternut planks.  It is absolutely essential that the camber be cut before anything else is done.

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Now, build solid wood forms for steam-bending the butternut. Each half of the deck requires both a top and a bottom form of solid wood.  The new wood is soaked and steamed before it is placed between the two halves of the bending form.  The forms are them pressed together and held there until the newly bent wood dries.  To build the forms, transfer the curve of the deck directly from each half of the deck onto ¾” plywood.  Add a bit more curve to the forms (about 1/2″ or 13 mm) to compensate for spring-back in the wood when it is released from the bending press.  Cut the shape of the bending forms from pieces of plywood.  Laminate a number of identical pieces together until you create a solid form that is wide enough to accommodate the new wood.  In this case, I created top and bottom forms for each side of the deck — four components all together — each 7½“ wide.

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Construct a press to hold the bending forms. In this case, I made the press out of 2×6 lumber and used a scissor jack from my car to generate the pressure required in the press.  The top and bottom beams were comprised of three 2×6’s and a piece of ¾” plywood.  The entire press was glued and screwed together for maximum strength.  This system only allowed one half of one deck to be done at a time.  Each piece of new butternut was soaked for two days, steamed for an hour and then placed in the press for two days.  It took almost two weeks to bend all four deck pieces.

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Once you have the new wood bent and the curve matches the curve in the original deck pieces. Matching the curve in the new deck pieces to the curve in the original decks may take a number of attempts (with adjustments to the curve in the bending forms).  Don’t expect the curves to match the originals after the first attempt.  Once the new wood matches the original curved pieces, draw reference grid lines at 2” (5 cm) intervals onto each piece of the original decks.  Measure the distance from the centre line of the deck piece along each reference line to the outer edge of the deck.  Transfer these measurements onto the new  deck pieces.  Next, cut the outside edge of each piece on a band saw.  In this case, the outside edge was also angled.  It is important to copy that angle from the original deck pieces onto the new wood.  Cut just outside the line to allow for final fitting in the canoe.

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Assemble the two halves of each deck with the original brace pieces on the underside of each deck.  If the brace pieces are weak, make exact replicas with the originals as templates.  Jointing the two halves of each deck takes a great deal of careful shaping and fitting to create a surface on the underside which is an exact copy of the original. In this case, I ended up making both decks twice.  During my first attempt, I rushed into shaping the top surface of the decks without checking the underside surface against the original deck pieces.  I discovered – too late – that both the top and bottom surfaces of the decks are shaped in very precise and complex ways.

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With the underside shaped and braced, dry fit the decks into the canoe. In the Model 44 Peterborough, the end of each deck fits into a notch in the inner stem.  Make that notch as the first step in fitting the deck.  In the Model 44 Peterborough, three ribs fit into notches in the underside of each deck on each side.  Line up these notches and cut notches in the new decks using a dovetail saw, a chisel and a mallet.  The final assembly of each deck includes a coaming that covers the end-grain of deck at a precise location in the canoe.  Mark this position and draw the curve of the deck onto the new wood using the original coaming as a template.

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Cut the curve of the deck on the band saw. In the Model 44 Peterborough, there is an angle to the curved face of the deck which must be copied from the original.

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While the decks, prepare the deck coaming pieces as well as the deck-caps.  Cut new wood for these pieces and plane them to the thickness of the originals.  Then, build steam-bending forms for the coaming pieces. Next, soak and steam-bend the new wood.  In this case, the original coaming pieces were white oak.  In early (circa 1900) canoes, the coamings and deck-caps were mahogany.  Make sure there is extra height and length in the coaming pieces to ensure that a perfect fit can be achieved in the final assembly.

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Fit the deck components through a long and painstaking process of shaping and dry-fitting until everything comes together with precision.

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Now, clamp the deck in place and secure it with the original fasteners.

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Begin shaping and sanding the top surface of the deck by making a flat surface for the deck-cap that will cover the centre-line joint.

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Shape and sand the deck into the graceful curves of the canoe. Use a random-orbital sander in progressions from 60-grit sandpaper to 120-grit and then 220-grit.  Wet the top surface of the deck with water to raise the grain of the new wood.  Once dry, use hand-sanding in progressions from 320-grit to 400-grit and finally 600-gir to polish the wood satin smooth.  I complete the sanding by using a piece of paper from a brown-paper bag to get a delicious, glossy finish.  The craft paper in a brown-paper bag is the equivalent of 1200-grit sandpaper.  Next, stain the new wood to match the colour of the original wood in the rest of the canoe.

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Attach the coaming pieces with 1.25″ (32 mm) #8 silicon-bronze round-head slot wood screws. Attach the deck-cap with ¾” 16-gauge silicon-bronze ring nails or copper canoe nails.

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The final finishing is the usual process I have described in previous blog articles as well as my book.

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Be sure to get your copy of my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

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by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

18' Chestnut Prospector Vee-Stern

As I was completing the restoration of an 18′ Chestnut Prospector Vee-Stern canoe for a client, he asked me to create a wood-canvas canoe field repair kit for him. He lives in Whitehorse and plans to use the canoe on hunting trips in the Yukon. A few basic supplies along with a hammer, a screwdriver and the ubiquitous roll of duct tape are all you need to hold your canoe together until you get out of the bush and back to civilization.

The kit fits into a small food container (900 ml or 30.4 fluid ounces) and consists of the following items:

  • a piece of #10 (14.5 ounce) canvas 12″x12″ (30 cm x 30 cm)
  • 10′ (3 meters) of 3/16″ rawhide lacing (babiche)
  • a tube of waterproof glue (Ambroid glue is no longer available but you can use a polyurethane glue instead)
  • 30 – 3/4″ (19 mm) brass canoe tacks
  • 20 – 3/4″ (19 mm) silicon bronze 14-gauge ring nails
  • 12 – 1″ #8 silicon bronze flat-head square-drive wood screws
  • a small container of alkyd enamel paint

Canvas Canoe Field Repair Kit

You also need to pack a clinching iron (auto-body dolly) in order to clinch the tacks when the time comes to use them.  Most of the supplies are self-explanatory except for the babiche. It is very useful for lashing a broken thwart back together or holding a make-shift thwart (tree branch) in place. Soak the babiche for about 6 hours, do your lashing and let it dry overnight. The babiche will tighten and hold anything without fail.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

In my book, This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe, I describe how to weave natural cane (rattan) in Chestnut canoe seats.  However, most canoe builders used their own weaving pattern for their canoe seats.

The Peterborough Canoe Company (1879 – 1961) installed hand-woven cane seats in many of their wood-canvas canoes as well as many of their all-wood canoes. Their pattern is similar to the six-stage “quick” pattern used by the Chestnut Canoe Company (1897 – 1978).  Only the sixth stage in the pattern is different.  In the Chestnut pattern, both diagonal weaving stages (fifth and sixth stages) weave under the vertical strands and over the horizontal strands.  In the Peterborough pattern, the sixth stage weaves over the vertical strands and under the horizontal strands.

In my book, I describe the full process of preparing the seat frames, preparing the cane and handling the cane during the weaving process. Here I will present the basic look of each stage and give details for the sixth stage only for the Peterborough pattern.

First Stage  ̶  Vertical strands

Second Stage  ̶  Vertical strands arranged beside the strands of the first stage

Third Stage  ̶  Horizontal strands

Fourth Stage  ̶  Horizontal strands arranged beside the strands of the third stage

Fifth stage – Diagonal strand woven under the vertical strands and over the horizontal strands

Sixth stage – Begin the pattern in the empty corner on the transverse rail of the seat.  Feed one end of the cane strand through the corner hole from the top-side to the under-side.  Secure the strand-end in the usual manner.  Secure the strand in the corner hole with a caning peg on the top-side.

Trim the working-end of the cane strand to create a sharp point. This makes weaving easier.  Make sure the shiny side of the strand faces up and start the weaving pattern by going under the diagonal strand next to the corner hole on the transverse rail of the seat.  Then, weave over the first set of vertical strands in the pattern and under the first horizontal strands.  Continue in the way (over the second set of vertical strands and under the second horizontal strands) until you reach the opposite transverse rail.

Make sure you weave under the diagonal strand on the transverse rail before threading the strand down through the hole. Pull the strand snug (but not tight) and secure the strand with a caning peg.

Continue with this pattern for each diagonal strand as you work toward the empty corner in the bottom transverse rail of the seat frame. As usual, the corner hole has two strands since it is both a hole along the transverse rail and the side rail.  The strand going into the corner hole as part of the transverse rail strands weaves under the final diagonal strand before entering the hole.  The second strand from the corner hole begins by weaving over the diagonal strand, then under the first set of horizontal strands and over the first set of vertical strands.  Continue in the way until you reach the top transverse rail of the seat frame.

I rarely weave the Peterborough pattern.  Consequently, I have to check and re-check my work constantly.  Work slowly and carefully to ensure you make your mistakes as quickly as possible.

Complete the sixth weaving stage at the corners of the seat. Make sure the strand weaves under the diagonal strand from the transverse rail and over the diagonal strand from the side rail.

Complete the seat weaving with the usual “couching” to cover the holes in the seat frame. The couching is held in place with loops of cane in every second hole around the seat frame.

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Complete instructions on seat caning (and much more) are available in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

Proper storage of your wood-canvas canoe is essential to its long, rot-free life.  The basic principles of proper storage revolve around creating an environment that is hostile to the growth of the fungi that cause wood to rot.  This means keeping the canoe:

a) well off the ground
b) upside-down
c) protected from rain, snow, etc.
d) in an area with lots of air circulation

Finding a suitable place is one challenge.  The other is how to store your canoe.  I’m sure there are as many ways to store a canoe as there are canoes.  Let’s look at a few.
Some examples of suitable storage spaces include:

1)  Carport
2) Covered Porch
3) Unheated Garage
4) Lean-To Shelter (against a building).

Once you have identified a spot, the next step is to develop a storage method.  I will describe three possible systems.  From them, you ought to be able to come up with something that works for you.

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1. A Basic Rack – Does your space have a solid wall on one side?  Is there enough room away from the wall to allow access into the space?  If so, build and install two large racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart.  The example illustrated here is made from spruce 2×4’s.  The joints are glued and screwed to ensure a sturdy structure.  The top edges of the rack can be rounded and/or padded to protect the gunwales of the canoe.  Make sure the racks are secured well to the wall (with lag-bolts or through bolts and washers).

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If you are able to use the services of a steel fabricator, a canoe rack can be constructed from 1″ (25 mm) square tubing.  A single weld to create a right angle is more than strong enough to support a canoe, so there is no need for extra bracing if the rack is made of steel.  Protect the gunwales of your canoe by threading a length of 1½” (38 mm) ABS pipe over the steel struts.

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2. A Roller System – Is your space long and narrow?  Is it awkward or impossible to access the space from the side?  In this case, it may be possible to feed the canoe into the space from one end.  For this situation, install two support racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart.  Each support rack is a  length of standard 1” (25 mm) steel pipe at least 40” (one meter) long threaded through a  length of 1½” (38 mm) ABS pipe at least 38” (96 cm) long.  Install each steel pipe securely at the desired height.  The ABS pipe acts as a roller and makes it easy to store the canoe in and remove it from a confined space.

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3. A Hoist System – Is it possible or desirable to get your canoe up out of the way above everything else?  If so, try using a system of ropes and pulleys to hoist your canoe up and away.  Support the canoe with a length of rope wrapped around each end.  Tie a permanent loop in both ends of the ropes.  Use a carabiner to clip the ends of each rope together to create a support loop for each end of the canoe.  Then rig a length of ¼” (7 mm) braided rope (I use multi-filament polypropylene – MFP – rope) through a series of pulleys as illustrated above and install a cleat to secure the free-end of the rope.

photo by Kevin Dunn

4. Interior Design – Let’s face it, wood-canvas canoes are works of art and as such can enhance a living space.  They can set a tone for the room and become a conversation piece for visitors.  A little creativity can provide a method for hanging the canoe that shows off your canoe to its best advantage.  This is an option as long as the space has large doors to allow the canoe to be moved into and out of the space.  Narrow hallways or tight corners into the space would eliminate this as an option.

photo by Kevin Dunn

Warning:  When storing your canoe (either inside or outside), resist the temptation to wrap it up in a tarp.  Any moisture trapped inside the tarp or developed over extended wet periods will remain there.  As mentioned earlier, this sets up perfect growing conditions for the fungi that cause wood-rot.  If you want your canoe to compost, then wrap it up in a tarp.  Otherwise, make sure there is plenty of air circulation around your canoe.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

If there is an area of controversy in the world of wood-canvas canoes, the question of the keel would be it.

Historically, canoes (and kayaks for that matter) never had keels.  Edwin Tappen Adney documented hundreds of indigenous water craft throughout North America in the early part of the 1900’s.  His meticulous notes, drawings and scale models are presented in the book “Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America”.  It was compiled and edited by Howard Chappelle after Adney’s death.  The canoes and skin boats range from small hunting boats around 11’ (3.35 meters) in length to large cargo vessels over 36’ (11 meters) long.  None of these vessels had a keel.

As people of European ancestry came in contact with canoes through the 1800’s and tried to build them, they tended to approach the task of boat building from a European perspective.  For them, building a boat begins with a keel.  The rest of the vessel is built around it.  As canoes became a commodity for the general public, canoe builders also had to appeal to a market that didn’t trust a boat unless it had a keel.  Many people unfamiliar with canoes feel unstable in them and have trouble travelling in a straight line.  As a result, most canoes sold in the better part of the 20th century were equipped with a keel.  However, it is interesting to note that true working canoes built at the same time (such as the Chestnut Prospector, Cruiser and Ogilvy) were usually keel-free.

The Chestnut Ogilvy was designed to be stable. The wide, flat bottom allows a person to stand up in it all day long. A true working river boat, it never had a keel.  Safe travel in rapid rivers requires a canoe that can side-slip easily to avoid encounters with large rocks.  A keel makes this maneuver more difficult and puts the canoeist at risk.

To look at it from a design perspective, the stability of a canoe is determined by the hull shape.  Wider canoes – 36” (90 cm) or more – with flat bottoms tend to have greater “initial stability”(feel more stable when you first get in them) than narrow canoes – 34” (85 cm) or less – with arched bottoms.  What is gained in stability with a wide, flat bottom is lost in hull speed and vice versa (what is gained in hull speed with a narrow, arched bottom is lost in stability).  Attaching a strip of wood an inch (2.5 cm) high to the bottom of a canoe does little to affect stability one way or the other.

The Chestnut Prospector was designed to dance around rocks in rapid rivers.  Although it has a more rounded bottom than the Ogilvy, the tumblehome and high sides in the centre of the canoe gives it very good “secondary stability” (gets more stable as you add weight to the canoe).  When the Chestnut Prospector it is tipped over on one side, it becomes stable in that position.  Also, the waterline width increases as more weight is loaded into the canoe.  Greater width at the water-line equals more stability.

Tracking – the tendency of a canoe to travel in a straight line – is determined by its length.  The longer the waterline length, the better the canoe tracks in the water.  Note here that I refer specifically to the waterline length rather than the canoe’s length overall.  The hull of a Chestnut Prospector lifts dramatically at the ends.  As a result, an unloaded 16’ (4.9 meters) canoe will only be about 14’ (4.2 meters) long at the waterline.  What is gained in maneuverability in a shorter waterline length is lost in tracking and vice versa (what is lost in maneuverability in a longer waterline length is gained in tracking).    If you are simply looking for a canoe that will travel in a straight line, get a long canoe – 17’ (5.2 meters) or more – with no rocker.  If you want your canoe to be able to dodge rocks in a rapid river, choose a canoe with lots of rocker at the ends – and no keel.

Functionally speaking, most canoes are designed to navigate rivers.  The rivers of northern Canada present the traveler with many challenges – chief among them; rapids filled with large rocks.  The Chestnut Pal was equipped with a “shoe” keel. At 3/8″ (9 mm) high and 2¼” (57 mm) wide, it provided protection to the bottom without interfering with the canoe’s ability to sideslip past rocks in rapid rivers.

In lakes, many people complain that a canoe without a keel will be blown around by the wind.  Again, it comes back to learning how to handle the canoe.  When travelling on a large lake with the wind in your face, the canoe must be loaded with a majority of the weight in the forward half of the canoe.  It will always tend to “weathervane” – that is, it will orient itself with the lighter end downwind.  As long as the weight of the canoe is slightly upwind, the canoe will track easily into the wind.

Speaking as a canoe restorer, I wince slightly whenever I finish preparing a beautifully watertight canvas cover and then proceed to drill a dozen or more holes straight down the centerline of the canoe.  I solve the watertight issue by using a top quality marine bedding compound to set the keel.  Eventually, the bedding compound dries out and/or the keel is jarred by one too many encounters with rocks in rivers.  When the seal is broken, the canoe begins to leak.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to remove the keel without damaging the canvas.  Therefore, when the canoe starts to leak, it is usually time to for a new canvas.

If the question of keels in canoes were strictly one of form and function, there would not be a discussion – a canoe is a water-craft designed to travel on rapid rivers, and as such, is better off without a keel.  You only have to look at any modern Royalex or Kevlar canoe on the market.  None of the canoes built today have keels.  However, in the world of wood-canvas canoes, there is more to consider.  Many people have grown up with their canoe.  It is part of their life and part of their family.  Their canoe has had a keel for fifty years, so it seems only natural that it stays that way.  In this context I say, “Fair enough.”  It turns out that wood-canvas canoes are more than form and function.  They must be seen in the context of family history and tradition.  For this reason, I have no problem re-installing a keel in a wood-canvas canoe.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

In Canada, the canoes from the Chestnut Canoe Company set the standard by which all others are measured.  Now, thirty-nine years after the company went out of business, they are still held up as classic canoe icons.  So, how can you identify a canoe as a Chestnut and what makes a Prospector a Prospector?

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The Chestnut Canoe Company – William and Henry Chestnut started building wood-canvas canoes in 1897.  They bought a canoe in Maine (probably a Gerrish canoe) and made exact copies of it which they then sold out of their father’s furniture business in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  They incorporated the canoe business in 1905 which most historians view as the birth date of the company.  However, the 1972 Chestnut Canoe Company catalogue proudly celebrated 75 years in business.  It seems the company viewed its birth as 1897.  Be that as it may, the company grew into the largest canoe manufacturer in Canada and, at their height, were producing in excess of 3,000 canoes/year.  In 1923, Chestnut Canoe Company and Peterborough Canoe Company (and later Canadian Canoe Company) amalgomated under an umbrella group called Canadian Watercraft Limited.  As a result, the wood-canvas canoes for all three companies were built in Fredericton by Chestnut.  The Peterborough Canoe Company ceased operations in 1961 while the Chestnut Canoe Company continued until it closed in 1978.

Chestnut produced over 50 different canoes in a wide variety of models.  In this article, I will focus on the most common Chestnut canoes — Ogilvy, Cruiser, Bobs Special, Pal and Prospector.

The Chestnut Ogilvy – Although never as popular as the others, fishing guides on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick helped create a working canoe that is unmatched for its purpose.  They needed a river canoe they could stand up in all day long.  They were often poling the canoe upstream through shallow rapids in order to offer the prime fishing spots to their clients.  The canoe had to be stable and tough with a shallow draft so as to avoid many (but not all) of the rocks.  They come in six models that range in length from 16’ to 26’ – real, honest working canoes.

The 16’ model has a 36” beam and 13½” depth at the centre.  The ribs are 3” wide, 3/8” thick and have only ½” space between them.  This creates what amounts to a double-planked hull.  The rugged nature of the Ogilvy comes with a price in terms of weight.  The 16’ has an average weight of 84 pounds and a carrying capacity of 850 pounds.  It has a flat-bottomed hull, straight sides, full entry lines and modest rocker in the ends.  This makes for a canoe that is slow and steady – exactly what is needed when moving through shallow, rapid rivers.

The Chestnut Cruiser – This canoe was one of the first canoes that Chestnut developed.  It was influenced very heavily by (if not copied directly from) Gerrish canoes built in Maine in the late 1890’s.  The lines are sleek, narrow and graceful – designed to handle rivers with speed and efficiency.  This narrow canoe has an arched bottom, fine-entry lines and generous rocker at the ends.  Therefore, it was not for the novice paddler.  However, in the hands of someone who knows what to do, this canoe is a dream to paddle.

Three models are 16’ 17’ and 18’ long.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between the ribs.  The 16’ model has a 34” beam, is 13” deep and weighs 70 pounds.  They are also built with ribs 3” wide, 3/8” thick and ½” spaces between the ribs.  These heavy-duty models are called the Guide Special.  The 16’ model weighs 75 pounds.  Both 16’ models have a carrying capacity of 600 pounds.

The Chestnut Bobs Special – This 15′ canoe is one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut.  Before I talk about the canoe, I’d like to clarify the name.  According to Roger MacGregor in his book “When the Chestnut was in Flower”, Henry and Will Chestnut were real history buffs.  The telegraph code for the 15’ 50-Lb. Special was BOBS and made reference to Lord Roberts, a major figure during the Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs (the average weight is 58 pounds while the carrying capacity is 700 pounds), they changed the name.  I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it “Bob’s Special”, “Bob Special” and “Bobs Special”.  So, feel free to take your pick.

Many outdoor enthusiasts were looking for a lightweight, stable canoe that would allow them to enjoy fly fishing or just a quiet paddle on the lake.  With a 37” beam and 12½” depth at the centre, the Bobs Special is very stable — ideal for those who find a regular canoe too ‘tippy’.  At the same time, it is surprisingly quick and maneuverable in the water.  This is due to the shallow-arch bottom combined with moderate rocker and fine entry lines in the ends.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide and ¼” thick with 1½” spaces between them.

The Chestnut Pleasure Canoes – It is no accident that Bill Mason used a 16′ Chestnut pleasure canoe in most of his films.  It is stable, yet quick; steady, yet agile.  It has a 36” beam, 12¾” depth at the centre, weight of 72 pounds and a carrying capacity of 700 pounds.  It is as close to being a perfect recreational canoe as you ever hope to get.  It had a variety of names over the years and was one of the Chestnut pleasure canoes which also came in 14’ and 15’ lengths.  Until 1958, the 16’ pleasure canoe (called the Ajax or Moonlight) had a 34” beam.  Then, the mould was widened.  The economy version of the 16’ pleasure canoe had been called the Pal for several years (from about 1954).  The pleasure canoes came in both narrow and wide versions until about 1960 when the wider versions were adopted exclusively.  Over the years, the ribs of the pleasure canoes came in two different sizes – either 1½” wide and 3/8” thick with 1½” spaces between ribs or 2-3/8” wide and 3/8” thick with 2” spaces.  The 16′ was called the Pal or the Deer, the 15′ was called the Chum or the Doe and the 14′ was called the Playmate or the Fox.

The bottom has a shallow-arch hull with tumblehome extending through the entire length of the canoe.  The fine entry lines and moderate rocker make it very easy to paddle.  In his film, “Path of the Paddle: Solo Whitewater”, Bill Mason demonstrated very well that the Pal (or Deer) was not designed for Class 3 rapids.  But, that didn’t stop him from trying.  The Pal (or Deer) is a great general-purpose canoe and was the canoe of choice for many generations of canoeists – even if many of them called it a Chestnut Prospector.

The Chestnut Prospector – This is the real deal – often copied, never matched.  A quick search on the internet produces at least ten modern canoe companies with a “Prospector” in its catalogue.  However, the Chestnut Canoe Company invented this winning combination.  With high sides, substantial arch in the bottom and lots of rocker in the full ends, it is designed to transport heavy loads quickly through rapid rivers and large, challenging lakes.  It is essentially a deeper, wider Cruiser and is still regarded as the ultimate wilderness tripping canoe.  Like the Cruiser, many people unfamiliar with these canoes find it a little “tippy”.  The round bottom of the Prospector makes for a “shaky” feel when you first get in.  However, it becomes much more stable as weigh is loaded into the canoe — making it perfect for extended trips.  It also settles into a stable position when heeled over to one side.  As a result, many people love it as a solo canoe.

They were made in five lengths from 14’ to 18’.  The 16’ model has a 36” beam and a 14½” depth at the centre.  The 16’ model weighs 76 pounds and carries 850 pounds.  Although there is good tumblehome at the centre, the hull flares about 4’ from the ends in order to throw water away from the canoe while hitting big waves in rapid rivers.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between them.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

later catalogue front cover

Of the lesser known canoe manufacturers in Canada, Tremblay Canoes Limited (Les Canots Tremblay Limitée) from St. Félicien, Québec stood out from the crowd.  They were well constructed with mahogany trim and their sweet lines make for a lovely paddling canoe.

later catalogue page 2

The specifications I present here are for the standard line of canoes produced by Tremblay known collectively as the Chibougamau canoes.  There were six canoes in the Chibougamau line ranging in length from 14’ to 20’.  As in all of my blog articles presenting specifications for canoes, I do not present the lines for the hull.  I am presenting specifications for anyone faced with the restoration of a Tremblay canoe.  As such, it is not a builder’s guide but rather a restorer’s guide.  Most of the dimensions can be taken from existing components in the canoe.

This is the 14' Chibougamau canoe made by Tremblay Canoes and is called the Sioux.

One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches.  I apologize to all of you who are working in metric.  The canoes were originally built with imperial measurements, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with the original measurements.

Tremblay Stern

One more note: In the later years of production, Tremblay canoes were known for their use of vinyl impregnated canvas (Verolite).  Although a couple of canoe builders still use this material, I have yet to find a single canoe restorer who will touch the stuff.  The vinyl coating acts as a plastic bag wrapped around the canoe and effectively holds water against the hull for extended periods of time.  This lack of ‘breathing’ in the canvas cover results in extensive rot through many (if not most) Tremblay canoes that were paddled on a regular basis.

Tremblay Canoe Inwale

Inwales – Tremblay inwales are made of mahogany with nicely rounded edges.  The ends curve sharply necessitating soaking the wood and heating the wood with hot water.  This facilitates the bend through that section.  I have repaired inwales that were cracked through the bend originally.  Mahogany is temperamental at the best of times.

Tremblay Canoe Outwale

Outwales – The outwales are also mahogany, but being only 7/16” wide, they do not require heat-bending.  For such a thin outwale, they are surprisingly robust.  The 3/8” rabbet helps keep the piece stable.

Tremblay Canoe Deck

Decks – Tremblay usually made their decks from birch, but I have seen mahogany used as well.  They are simple in design but nicely finished.

Tremblay Canoe Stem-Top

Stem-Top – It is unlikely you will ever have to replace the entire stem.  However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away.  The top of the stem-profile is straight thereby making the repair fairly straight-forward.  The end assembly is held together with a 1½” #8 bronze wood screw.

Tremblay Canoe Keel

Keel – If you want to keep the keel as part of the canoe, it is a simple piece to make.  Use a piece of hardwood and taper each end gradually to ½” wide.  It will accept the brass (or copper) stem-band which is ½” wide.

Tremblay Canoe Ribs

Ribs – The ribs are simple slats 3/8” thick and 2-1/8” wide.  The edges are chamfered 10° on both sides with the top cornered rounded off slightly.  There are 1¾” spaces between the ribs.

Tremblay Canoe Planking

Planking – Tremblay did a nice job on the planking.  The boards are usually 2¾” wide and 5/32” thick.

Roy 06

Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” birch or maple that is 1-1/8” wide.  Both seats are attached to mahogany braces on either side of the canoe with 1½” #8 bronze wood screws.  The seats are approximately 2” below the inwale.  The body of the seat is laced rawhide done the same way snowshoes were laced.

Tremblay Canoe Thwart

Thwarts – The thwarts are made of 5/8” birch or maple that is 2” wide.  They are simple pieces with no taper.  They are attached directly under the inwales with steel 10-24 bronze carriage bolts.

Tremblay Portage Yoke

Portage Yoke – If present in your canoe, you will appreciate the lovely shape of this yoke.  It is made of ash 5¾” wide tapering to 2¼” at the ends.  Like most designs that are pleasing to the eye, it is also very comfortable to use.

Tremblay Canoe Hand Thwart

Hand Thwarts – These are used as carrying handles on both ends of the canoe.  They are positioned about 7” back from each deck.  They are made from birch or maple 3/8” thick, 1½” wide and about 13” long with nicely rounded edges.

Specification Page - Tremblay

Here is a specification sheet with most of the components on one page.

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All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

Frequently, I get an email from someone who is looking to sell their wood-canvas canoe.  Typically, they tell me, “The canoe has been stored under-cover for the last twenty or thirty years and is in excellent shape.  What would be a reasonable price to ask for my canoe?”  Conversely, a person is considering the purchase of an old canoe and wants my opinion on whether or not the asking price is a reasonable one.  In both cases, the best I can do is refer them to what I see on classified ads offering other wood-canvas canoes for sale.

I guess the simplest answer is: “It is worth whatever someone is willing to pay.”  I have a hard time seeing these canoes as commodities.  That is why I am in the business of repairing and restoring wood-canvas canoes.  My clients tend to value their canoe based on a set of criteria far removed from monetary concerns.  That said, wood-canvas canoes are bought and sold.  Most of them are at least thirty years old and range in condition from pristine to ‘ready for the burn pile’.  So, let’s look at the market and what tends to be ‘the going rate’.

Fully restored wood-canvas canoes tend to be listed in classified ads in a range from about $3,500 to $7,000.  Bear in mind that a brand-new Old Town 16′ Guide canoe – made by hand on the original mould – currently sells for $9,000 USD (about $12,000 CAD).  Serviceable canoes that need some work tend to be offered somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,500.  Canoes requiring a full restoration can be picked up for $50 (or free) to $500.

When people ask for my opinion on a specific canoe, I base my answer on what a professional canoe restoration shop would charge to bring it back to ‘like new’ condition.  Any ‘original canoe in mint condition’ will require a new canvas.  Unfortunately, the original canvas will only last about forty years (Oh, how I long for a return to the days before planned obsolescence).  If the work is done by a professional canoe restorer, you are looking at spending about $3,000 to $4,000 after you have bought the canoe (all of these prices are in Canadian dollars).  If the canoe ‘needs a little work’, be prepared to pay $5,000 to $7,000 for a full restoration.  And if it is a ‘basket-case’, the bill can often far exceed the cost of a brand-new canoe (not unlike the cost of renovating an old house versus building a new one from the ground up).  So, when you see a fully restored canoe listed in a classified ad for $4,500, they are probably just trying to recoup the cost of the restoration.

About twelve years ago, I bought an original Greenwood Canoe for $900.  The bulk of the woodwork was in excellent condition and the interior varnish was still in very good condition.  The canvas was original (about forty years old) and although it was not rotting, it needed to be replaced.  Greenwood canoes are well-known to wood-canvas canoe enthusiasts in British Columbia.  Bill Greenwood built canoes in Richmond, BC from 1934 to 1975.  His workmanship was unequalled not to mention all of the Philippine Mahogany used in components such as gunwales, decks and thwarts.  Anyone who knows these canoes bows their head in reverence whenever they speak of Bill Greenwood and his canoes.

In my shop, I brought the canoe back to life.  The original mahogany outwales were shot, so I replaced them with exact copies.  I added a couple of coats of varnish to the woodwork and painted the new canvas the dark green that was typical for Greenwood canoes.

The next spring, I replaced the original slat seats with mahogany-framed hand-woven cane seats in the style of Greenwood canoes.  I removed the bow-quarter thwart, installed a mahogany carrying yoke and moved the stern-quarter thwart to a position halfway between the stern seat and the centre yoke.  I had no intentions of selling this canoe and, at that time, I had not seen a restored canoe sell for more than $2,500.  So, when anyone asked me how much I wanted for it, I told them, “The canoe is all yours for $4,500.”  In 2008, someone fell in love with my canoe and handed me a check.

Chestnut Prospector fully restored

Last spring (2016), I finished restoring a 16′ Chestnut Prospector for myself.  I replaced the original solid-wood slat seats with hand-woven cane seats replicating the Chestnut style of cane seats.  I then painted the canvas the original light green colour and installed copies of the original Chestnut deck and hull decals.  If anyone asks me how much I want for it, I will say (and I rarely see a fully restored canoe selling for more than $7,000), “This Chestnut Prospector would be all yours for $10,000 — but it’s not for sale.”

If you are selling, it is possible to get the price you are looking for.  Just be prepared to wait a long time for that ‘special someone’ to come along.  If you are buying, be prepared to factor in the cost of a full restoration once you have purchased the canoe.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

Peter and Christ Thompson built wood-canvas canoes in Peshtigo, Wisconsin (about 50 miles north of Green Bay) as the Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company. The company built canoes from 1904 until 1962.

The specifications I present here are for the Ranger model ̶  a 16′ canoe designed for general recreational use.  As in all of my blog articles presenting specifications for canoes, I do not present the lines for the hull.

That said, the hull has a shallow-arch bottom with lots of tumblehome through the full length of the canoe.  The ends have very little rocker and are quite full.  I am presenting specifications of component parts for anyone faced with the restoration of a Thompson Bros. canoe.  As such, it is not a builder’s guide but rather a restorer’s guide.  The specifications for various components changed over the years, so if possible, base your dimensions on those of the original piece from your canoe.

One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches.  I apologize to all of you who are working in metric.  The canoes were originally built with imperial measurements, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with the original measurements.

One more note: You may notice that the two canoes featured in this article do not have external stems.  Although they came into the shop with external stems, the clients did not want the keel re-installed.  Without a keel, the external stem is out-of-place.

Inwales – Thompson Ranger inwales are made of mahogany with chamfered edges.  The ends are tapered to ½”.  The sheer-line of the Ranger is flat with no rise at the ends.  Therefore, the gunwales do not require any pre-bending.

Outwales – The outwales are also mahogany and are well rounded making for a comfortable and good-looking rail on the canoe.

Decks – Thompson Bros. decks were originally made of softwood (probably spruce) with a metal strap secured across the underside for extra stability.  When faced with the task of replacing the decks, I chose to use maple which foregoes the need for a metal strap.

Stem-Top – It is unlikely you will ever have to replace the entire stem.  However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away.  The top of the stem-profile is straight thereby making the repair fairly straight-forward.  The end assembly is held together with a 1½” #8 bronze wood screw.  The external stem is attached with the same 1½” #8 bronze wood screws.

Keel – If you want to keep the keel as part of the canoe, it is a simple piece to make.  Use a piece of hardwood (originally white oak) and taper each end gradually to join smoothly with the external stem.  Since the external stem protects the canvas seam at the ends, there is no need for brass stem-bands.

Ribs – The ribs are 5/16” thick and 2¼” wide.  The edges are chamfered 15° on both sides with the top corners rounded off slightly.  The ribs are tapered to 1¼” wide at the tops.  One distinctive feature of Thompson Bros. canoes is clipped corners on the rib-tops.

Planking – The planking is another distinctive feature of Thompson Bros. canoes.  The boards are usually 3¾” wide, 3/16” thick and beveled to make for a very tight fit.

The planking pattern also identifies Thompson Bros. canoes.  The sheer planks run straight from end-to-end.  The bottom planks run up to the sheer planks and are cut to form a sharp point near the ends of the canoe.

Seats – The Ranger was built either with hand-woven cane in white oak frames or with extra thwarts placed where the front edge of the seats would normally be located.  If present, the seats are woven with standard warp and weft weaving in the six-stage pattern.   The bow seat is hung from the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and solid blocks of mahogany as spacers.  The front edge of the stern seat is attached directly under the inwales while the back edge has ¾” hardwood dowels as spacers.

Thwarts – The thwarts are made of 7/8” white oak that is 2-1/8” wide.  They are shaped with tapers for hand-grips and are nicely rounded but not elegant.  Canoes built for use at summer camps were set up with four thwarts and no seats.  Presumably, this avoided the need to repair or replace seats two or three times a season due to the inevitably heavy wear-and-tear from hundreds of kids at the camps.

Here are specification sheets with most of the components presented together for easy reference.

mockup 02

The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

People email regularly asking me to identify their canoe and/or give them an estimate on a restoration.  When I ask them to send me some pictures, I often see a big difference between what people regard as a helpful image and what I require, so here is a little tutorial on the art of photographing a wood-canvas canoe.

1.       A General Picture (3/4 Profile)

The first picture I ask for is a general picture in a three-quarter profile.  It is a view taken from an angle to show both the inside and outside of the canoe.  You are standing off to one side near one end.  The picture shows the decks, seats and thwarts as well as giving a good view of the hull shape.  Many people send me a series of pictures of the bottom of the canoe from every conceivable angle.  Other than the presence or absence of a keel, these pictures do little to help identify it or determine the condition of the canoe.  For identification purposes, along with a picture like the one presented above, it is useful to let me know the overall length from tip to tip as well as the maximum width and depth in the centre of the canoe.  If the canoe has a serial number (often stamped into the stern stem), that information is also useful.  This canoe is 16’ long, 33” wide and 13¼” deep.  I can see two caned seats, a centre thwart, a stern-quarter thwart and two hand thwarts (one at each end near the deck).  From this single picture and the accompanying dimensions, I can identify this canoe as a Chestnut Cruiser (called the Kruger).

2.       Both Decks (Top View)

Take a picture of each deck from directly above.  Be sure to show the entire area from the tip of the canoe to the base of the deck.  If a hand thwart is present (as illustrated above) include it too.  These pictures help me see the condition of the various components at the ends.  There is almost always some degree of rot in this area.  The decal on this canoe shows it to be a Chestnut Canoe built in Oromocto, NB.  The Chestnut Canoe Company was located in Fredericton, NB from 1897 to 1974.  They moved to Oromocto in the mid-1970′s and stayed there until they went out of business in 1978.  Therefore, this canoe was built in the period between about 1974 and 1978.

3.       Both Stem-Ends (3/4 Profile)

It helps to have close-ups of the ends taken at an angle off to one side, near the end and slightly above.  In some cases, as in the bow deck above, the damage is obvious.  However, in most cases, it is helpful to remove a few screws from the outwales (and perhaps the stem-band) to reveal the ends more fully.  In this canoe, rot in the stern-end is seen only once the interior surfaces are exposed.

4.       Both Seats (Above 3/4 Profile)

Take a picture of each seat from above at an angle.  Stand to one side near the centre of the canoe.  This view shows the bolts and spacers as well as the seat.  In this canoe, the original 3/16” carriage bolts have been replaced with 1/4″ threaded rod and nuts.  The original cane is in good condition.  Although it is weathered, it could be revitalized with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine followed by the usual finish of shellac to seal it followed by a number of coats of spar varnish.  However, in most cases, it is best to re-cane the seats (hand-woven with natural cane — rattan).

08 gunwales

5.        Gunwales and Thwarts (Above 3/4 Profile)

The rails along each side of the canoe are called gunwales.  They consist of an inside rail called the inwale and an outside rail called the outwale.  Stand near the bow seat off to one side and take a picture (or two) from above to show the inwale and outwale as well as the centre thwart.  In most cases, it was difficult for the builders to find full-length wood for the gunwale components.  They spliced pieces together by gluing a scarf joint.  Often the glue lets go and needs to be re-glued.  In the final years of the Chestnut Canoe Company, they attached the ribs to the inwale with steel tacks.  Over the years, they corrode causing the entire canoe to come apart.  Most companies assembled their canoes completely before applying paint and varnish.  As a result, the inside surface of the outwale is bare wood and the top-edge of the canvas is raw as well.  If the canoe has been used at all over the years, water collects under the outwales creating a moist environment for the fungi that cause rot.  Often, the canvas rots and begins to fall away from the canoe.  The outwales may look fine on the outside but are often rotting from the inside out.  Most canoe builders used steel carriage bolts to attach the thwarts and seats to the inwales.  Again, the original carriage bolts often look fine until you try to remove them. I replace these with silicon bronze bolts as a matter of course in most restorations.

6.       Obvious Damage (Above 3/4 Profile)

Please photograph any areas with obvious damage.  As with most photos of the canoe, take these at an angle (to one side and slightly above).  Sometimes the canoe is stored away in the back of a shed.  It may be a real hassle to haul the canoe out into the daylight, but please make the effort.  Good lighting is essential for these photos and taking the shots from an angle emphasizes areas of light and shadow.  In this canoe, the broken rib and cracked planking are brought into clear view by the angled light.

All of the pictures are best in a fairly large format (between 500 KB and 1 MB). It is not necessary to overload an email with huge picture files.  As long as the photos are large enough to allow close examination, they will work well.

09 restored

In all of this, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  All of the damage can be repaired and all of the rotted components can be replaced.  The restored canoe will be part of the family for many decades to come.

mockup 02

The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.